Accomplishments of U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks

U.S. Ambassador Lana Marks

The selection of a white, South Africa-born female as Ambassador to South Africa might have seemed to risk alienating the Government of the RSA and a majority of the population.   However, emphasizing her origin as a proud daughter of immigrants to South Africa, and communicating early on her and her family’s opposition to the Apartheid government, combined with her respect for the South African officials directing programs in tandem with embassy employees, Ambassador Marks quickly gained trust among her counterparts.   This deepened as each contact witnessed the depth and detail of the Ambassador’s research and plans for potential U.S. solutions for every sector of the government.  Her energy, determination and grounded understanding added credence to her enthusiasm for expanding trade between the United States and South Africa.

During a period of just over one year, Ambassador Lana Marks utilized several independent factors to foster a dramatic shift in United States – South Africa relations. In so doing, she raised the profile of the U.S. Government vis-à-vis the Government of the Republic of South Africa (RSA), and convinced decision-makers in the government and State-owned enterprises to actively consider United States providers for their large scale tenders and solicitations.

Agriculture
On her arrival at post, the Ambassador announced her determination to expand US port access for South African citrus. Ambassador Marks engaged with senior leadership at the South African Department of Agriculture, the first engagement in over 3 years at that level. Together they established a high-level task force to examine ongoing agricultural trade issues. On the USG side, she engaged the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to move the needle on these bilateral agricultural trade issues.  In 2020, citrus imports from South Africa increased 68 percent as a direct result of these talks.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
As an added measure in her efforts to increase South African exports to the U.S., the Ambassador pushed for broader access to U.S. ports for South African citrus.  In November 2020, USDA finalized a rule allowing precleared refrigerated South African citrus to enter through any port in the United States.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Sensing that the world’s largest PEPFAR program should be recognized at the highest levels of RSA government, the Ambassador engaged immediately with her host country counterparts to emphasize their shared interest in achieving measurable results.  With constant guidance from her interagency health team, Ambassador Marks used determined leadership and diplomatic acumen to spur efforts to achieve HIV epidemic control in South Africa by 2021. This enhanced relationship between the Department of Health and the Office of the U.S. Embassy health team served as a bulwark in jointly tackling the challenges of the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic in South Africa.

U.S. Citizen Services
In March, as COVID regional travel restrictions were imposed, American citizens began to run out of options for return to the United States.  Pressure mounted for the repatriation of over one thousand U.S. citizens stranded in South Africa and three neighboring countries.  Ambassador Marks, in concert with her COVID Expatriation Task Force, personally contacted officials in the Department of Transportation, and State Department offices of management and logistics.  The Ambassador’s direct intervention led to coordinated repatriation flights for over one thousand citizens from four countries in Southern Africa.  Over the following months, she regularly intervened with senior level contacts at DIRCO (the Department of Foreign Affairs), Home Affairs, and Transportation to facilitate the successful commercial travel of thousands of additional American citizens.

U.S. International Development Finance Corporation
Through her ability to obtain unprecedented audiences with senior South African Government Officials, the Ambassador accelerated opportunities for private sector investment and DFC investment in South Africa. Under her leadership, the DFC signed its first ever nuclear energy agreement with a U.S. company and the DFC has been exploring large scale roads, rooftop solar, and water opportunities in South Africa that were not previously on DFC’s radar.  When one of the DFC’s critical investments, a multi-million-dollar helium and LNG extraction deal was stuck due to delays in administrative approvals from the South African government, the Ambassador personally resolved those delays.

Defense
The Ambassador facilitated the first US Navy Ship visit to South Africa in nearly a decade.  Her efforts have opened the door to expanded bilateral engagement with the South African Navy.

The Ambassador’s leadership facilitated the donation by AFRICOM of personal protective equipment at a critical time in South Africa’s COVID-19 response. It resulted in over $330,000 in life saving equipment and supplies donated to the National Department of Health and subsequently distributed throughout the country, and a follow-on donation of a $2 million state-of-the-art field hospital in Mafikeng.  More importantly, her perseverance paid off when AFRICOM agreed to deliver some of the equipment directly to South Africa in a U.S. Air Force C-130, symbolizing tangible support for the South African defense forces at a critical juncture.

At the Ambassador’s urging, an additional $800,000 in personal protective equipment was donated to South Africa by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Economic Diplomacy
Upon her arrival in South Africa, the Ambassador empowered the Embassy Economic Section to serve as the “macro” partner to the Foreign Commercial Service’s reexamination of trade at the “micro” level.  Pushing for aggressive trade expansion, the Ambassador announced her goal to move South Africa up significantly on the list of U.S. trade partners in just one year. The Economic Section coordinated with FCS to identify trade and investment opportunities for that increase.  The Economic Section took the lead in implementing the Ambassador’s 5G strategy for South Africa, lobbying the government while convening private sector companies to game-plan implementation options.

 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Under the Ambassador’s leadership, Fish and Wildlife Service disrupted a major plant trafficking ring and successfully obtained the extradition to the US of its leader.  Expanding on that success, the Ambassador briefed the senior officials at the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries on the depth and breadth of disparate USG-funded programs assisting the game reserve industry and conservation efforts.  In addition, South African law enforcement officials gained a new respect for the dedication of all USG law enforcement colleagues in South Africa.

Foreign Commercial Service
The Ambassador’s singular focus on ramping up the U.S./South African trade and investment relationship produced an increase in both visibility and participation of U.S. firms in the South African market.  Her perseverance and personal investment on both sides of the Atlantic brought U.S. business leaders into direct contact with South African Ministers and other decision-makers for the first time, bringing historic levels of access and opportunities for participation in public and private sector projects. Several significant long-term multi-million-dollar contracts have already been signed, and an array of others are in process.

 Department of Homeland Security
Ambassador Marks facilitated direct contact with the Department of Home Affairs, which this year agreed to adopt the use of U.S. contemporary technology to manage border control issues.

Bilateral cooperation with ongoing investigations increased significantly this year.  In addition to exposing online international pedophile activities, DHS and the South African Police completed 29 joint pangolin anti-smuggling operations, which led to the arrest of nine suspects in September alone.

 Health and Human Services
The Ambassador’s continuous guidance focused and enhanced U.S. leadership in the implementation of HHS global health priorities this year.  As we navigated delicate international reform efforts and concerns related to the Africa Center for Disease Control, she magnified the impact of our COVID-19 research on therapeutics and vaccines in South Africa.  Her constant and enthusiastic engagement and pride in the full HHS portfolio has strengthened our partnerships and resulted in greater visibility for the tremendous work that the USG undertakes here.

Department of Justice
Winning the confidence of the Justice and Police Ministries and the National Prosecuting Authority leadership, the Ambassador sought resources from the USG to meet training needs they have identified.

Legal Attaché
The Ambassador personally led discussions with Senior South African leadership, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI, and INL to pursue delivery of a training program that will strengthen local law enforcement. A staunch advocate for the implementation of modern technology that will enable the South African Police and National Prosecuting Authority identify, investigate, and prosecute those responsible for organized crime, trafficking, and terrorism offenses, Ambassador Marks convinced senior national officials to consider U.S. options for training and equipment.

 Embassy Management and Facilities
Identifying underlying security and safety issues in Consulate General Durban which had gone unresolved for over 15 years, Ambassador Marks directed a resolution.  Under her leadership, an alternate location has been identified, approved, and a lease has been signed.  Meanwhile, the current consulate has been awarded a physical security upgrade project after a delay of six years.

Peace Corps
An unwavering supporter of the Peace Corps, the Ambassador encouraged the evacuation of all volunteers in March and is working with Peace Corps Washington on the safe return of volunteers to South Africa later this year.

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)
Under the Ambassador’s leadership, the COP20 process was completed and approved in record time. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, PEPFAR programs ensured continued access to antiretroviral treatment through innovative community and patient-centered approaches, enabling continued retention on treatment for millions of People Living with HIV, despite a strict lockdown and severely affected health system.  Through her personal involvement, Ambassador Marks parlayed our supplemental support for South Africa’s response to COVID-19 into long awaited recognition of the United States as the foremost HIV/AIDS partner of South Africa.  Using the constraints added by the pandemic as a lever, the Ambassador convinced senior host government officials to adopt policy improvements long sought by U.S. experts, such as the six-month distribution of antiretrovirals.  Today, largely due to the involvement of Ambassador Marks, South Africa’s leaders are fully cognizant of the depth of U.S. donations towards controlling HIV/AIDS, and the pending imperative for tangible progress towards epidemic control.

Political Diplomacy
Through persistence and unrelenting effort, the Ambassador established top-tier relations with the senior-most political and government leadership.  Using this access, she offered alternative resolutions while engaging political and civil society leaders.  Her personal involvement led concrete support to senior political, government, and justice officials in pursuit of South Africa’s anti-corruption efforts.  With the encouragement of Ambassador Marks, South African support for U.S. positions at the UN and other multilateral fora has moved in several instances to fully supportive.

Power Africa
The higher USG profile inspired by Ambassador Marks also lifted the South Africa-US bilateral trade relationship, giving increased exposure to the Energy Working Group at the recent Annual Bilateral Forum.  This produced an impressive list of mutual activities to work towards in the year ahead. Her support has also directly impacted the operations of Power Africa partners GE and First Solar, with tangible commercial wins.

Embassy Public Affairs
The Ambassador’s enthusiastic and unflagging engagement with the South African media, both major stations and papers as well a smaller, more local outlets, exponentially increased USG outreach and promotion of the work of the United States in South Africa, especially our priorities of partnering with South Africa on health (HIV/AIDS and COVID-19) and boosting trade and investment. In her first year in South Africa, the Ambassador engaged with the media nearly 100 times, including print, online, TV, and radio interviews.

Additionally, Ambassador Marks engaged with a variety of audiences throughout her tenure to share her story of personal entrepreneurship and to inspire young women to continue their business efforts in support of economic growth and trade between the United States and South Africa. From her inspiring presentation at the March 31 “Her Future” Summit, when her remarks reached over 2,000 virtual participants, to her laudatory remarks at the October 13 graduation ceremony for the 97 women in the first cohort of the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), the Ambassador strongly encouraged women’s empowerment and excellence in business.

Ambassador Marks also spoke passionately about the power of exchange programs, and leveraged her influence with Washington leaders to encourage expansion of existing programs and the development of new ones to build personal ties between our two peoples, including a commitment from the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs to increase the Fulbright Specialist Program from just 10 in FY19 to 15 in FY20 and 20 in FY21.  Under Ambassador Marks’ leadership, the Cultural Affairs team pursued additional funding through the University Partnership Initiative, ultimately securing more than $1.28 million to launch three new partnership programs in Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Cape Town.

 U.S. Secret Service
The Ambassador’s increased cooperation with the host country justice and law enforcement leadership also enhanced cooperation between South African officials and the Secret Service in combatting cybercrime, currency crime and counterfeiting.

U.S. Trade and Development Agency
The Ambassador facilitated economic growth in South Africa by linking private US businesses with infrastructure projects through feasibility studies, technical assistance and pilot initiatives.

Transportation Security Administration
The Ambassador’s advocacy with United Airlines corporate headquarters facilitated a direct flight between Cape Town and Newark. Following Delta, United is now the second American flag carrier on the continent.

USAID
Ambassador Marks commissioned the study of ventilator needs in South Africa, and proactively engaged with the United States National Security Council (NSC) to advocate for the donation of 1000 ventilators to South Africa to offset the immediate challenge of critical care needs due to COVID-19. As a direct result, on May 11, 2020 South Africa became the first country in the world to receive a ventilator donation from the United States.

At a critical juncture, she intervened in Washington, successfully negotiating with the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator to repurpose $6 million in PEPFAR funds for the purchase of TLD to prevent critical stock-outs of this crucial HIV/AIDS medication.  She also gained authorization for the mobilization of almost 5,000 community health care workers for COVID-19 screening as an early response to the pandemic. As the public health threat of COVID diminished, the Ambassador saw that HIV/AIDS efforts had lost momentum.  On the advice of her Health Team, she successfully negotiated a six-month extension of 5,000 frontline worker positions for South Africa (through March of 2021) to ensure that South Africa remains on a path towards HIV/AIDs epidemic control. Working with community leaders and government counterparts, she led an initiative to expand job opportunities for unemployed workers through skills training and job opportunities provided through a web-based portal developed in coordination with U.S.-based companies.  This served as another example of public-private partnerships championed by the Ambassador throughout her tenure.